Possibly a Pomegranate: Alwyn Marriage, Palewell Press
Alwyn Marriage’s latest collection is a comprehensive and thoughtful overview that celebrates womankind in personal, evocative stories and via literary and historical characters; it also considers the role of women at a global level. Her readable lines and sharp thinking engage the reader in a thought-provoking journey that is comfortable and challenging at the same time.
Her poems span some events of her life chronologically, from her childhood, girlhood, school and university years to love, marriage, motherhood and the intimidating implications of ageing. Prominent female figures such as Sappho, Jane Austen, Cleopatra, Rosa Parks, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen and others are points of reference, examples that inspire women to follow their path. Ordinary women are mentioned in Marriage’s work as well. They are often subject to discrimination, suffer hardships and struggle to receive the education and fair treatment they deserve.
Alwyn Marriage revisits her childhood, adulthood and latest times in four sections, ‘Somewhere a Child…’, ‘Primrose Time’, ‘Woman in the Mirror’ and ‘Criss-Cross the Labyrinth’, that invite the reader to rethink the past in a wider and wiser perspective. The fifth and last section, ‘Winds of History’, is about historically relevant and heroic women who have made an impact on Western culture. Her themes delve into the mystery of life that despite incomprehension, conflict and dead ends is still “open to everything”, which is encouraging. Marriage has a positive attitude; her vision of love is tender and healing, an antidote to the troubles we face every day.
Her poems cover day-to-day events and global issues such as education, exploitation and poverty, and they shift from the universal to the ordinary and vice versa with surprising twists and ironic tones. Nothing is taken for granted; everything is investigated and questioned, suggesting multiple viewpoints. Some of her poems end with a question; the answer, or possible answers, is left to the reader, who is free to have their say.
Fecundity is at the core of this collection as the reference to the pomegranate, a fruit linked to death and fertility in the ancient myth of Persephone, is proposed in the title poem:
The point is not how many seeds were
in the fruit, how sweet or sour or round
it was, but what explanation the creative mind
of generations could come up with to account
for the way things are: the hubris of humanity,
our meddlesome nature, our inability
to live at peace in paradise
and our capacity for choosing evil.
But if we take the story at face value,
it may, indeed, have been an apple,
or possibly a pomegranate.
(‘Possibly a pomegranate’)
It may not be an apple, a fruit the poet links to the Latin word malum, which means both ‘evil’ and ‘apple’ (with a long ‘a’ in the name of the fruit, mālum), though in the story of the Genesis the Hebrew Bible uses the word peri, that is, a generic fruit. However, St Jerome translated the word in the Latin Bible as mālum, implying a double meaning, and it may even be an intentional pun. The pomegranate might be the starting point of a different possibility that reverses the narratives. It is a revolutionary idea that subverts the traditional story from a female perspective. In this way, the narrative shifts and revolves around procreation and motherhood, that is, fecundity and renewal.
In these poems, there is an urgency to utter what the poet understands through a lifelong experience before death, as it will cut all the memories she has accurately gathered; it is a treasure carefully shared that might inspire others. Though we become more and more vulnerable when we are ageing, a new phase of our life develops in which we revisit our past with a more nuanced outlook. It is a revival that reveals wiser thoughts and proposes diverse routes that express curiosity and vitality. The positive side of relationships is therefore depicted, showing love and friendship:
Fifty years of faithfulness
have flown, and now,
still walking arm in arm,
they tenderly but surreptitiously
support each other, she a bird
in his branches, he the wine
in her cup.
(‘Couple arm in arm’)
In the last section about female historical figures, the poem about Sappho is particularly relevant because of its multi-layered construction that develops the theme of love linked to poetry and loss:
Nothing is constant; and all too soon
the winds of fortune shake the branches,
sending fragments of papyrus fluttering down
through history. I fear this palimpsest
of poetry is all for which I’ll be remembered.
Youth, fame and love have now all flown,
and you have gone.
The poem can be read as a self-portrait that proposes an all-encompassing vision in which life and death mingle in a state of loneliness that is also the essence of being human, and reflects the way we utter it in the poetical work. Poetry is therefore celebrated as the privileged channel that expresses human emotions and experiences. The “untamed triumphant poetry” expands in the rhythm of life “so unimaginably huge”, which is a final amplified image that widens the horizon of Marriage’s poetry to infinity.